In order to attract bigger fish to the Destin area, the Tourism Development Council is launching a project that has never been done in the continental United States.
For the past seven years, the TDC and Okaloosa County Commissioner Kelly Windes have been working on getting approval for a project that would deploy Fish Aggregating Devices — FADs — in the Gulf.
According to the TDC, a FAD is a buoy that floats on top of the water and is anchored onto the Gulf floor. The device is designed to attract large fish such as mahi mahi, marlin, wahoo and tuna. The buoys are designed to have radar reflection, GPS devices, real-time weather stations and options to carry additional scientific equipment.
Floating objects in the water have been known to attract bait-fish that are naturally seeking shelter, which in turn attracts the bigger predatory fish. The use of FADs dates back hundreds of years. Currently anchored FADs are present around multiple Caribbean islands, Australia, and New Guinea. The Hawaiian islands have had an extensive FAD system in place for over 30 years and is the only currently active FAD system in the United States, but none have ever been deployed in the Gulf of Mexico.
The eight FADs will be deployed within 60-80 miles of Destin, Fort Walton Beach and Okaloosa Island in the De Soto Canyon.
Windes said he hopes the new devices will give private and charter boats some certainty about where they need to go to catch the bigger fish. Windes has been in the fishing business for 50 years and was able to use his extensive knowledge of the Destin waters to help decide where to place the buoys.
The project is mainly funded by the Okaloosa County TDC with support from Gulf, Bay, Walton, Santa Rosa, Escambia County and Gulf Shores, Ala. A feasibility study by Taylor Engineering, Inc looked at the effectiveness, design, maintenance and longevity of the buoys. The study concluded that, as long as the buoy system was placed in the deeper portions of the Gulf, the project is feasible.
The TDC needed to get permission from multiple agencies for this project including the National Marine Fisheries, the Coast Guard and Eglin Air Force Base.